Legal & Regulatory

Virginia Governor Orders Power Plant Carbon Regulations 

Virginia’s governor has directed the commonwealth’s environmental quality agency to establish regulations to curb its carbon emissions from power plants via a carbon trading scheme by the end of this year. 

Executive Directive 11 signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on May 16 instructs the Department of Environmental Quality to develop a proposed rule to “abate, control, or limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power facilities” for review by the State Air Pollution Control Board by December 31, 2017. The rule must include provisions to ensure it is “trading ready” to allow for the use of market-based mechanisms for carbon allowances through a multistate trading program, and it must also establish abatement mechanisms providing for a corresponding level of stringency to limits. 

The order follows Executive Order 57, which required the Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a work group to study and recommend methods to reduce carbon emissions and build Virginia’s low-carbon economy. 

A release from the governor’s office dated May 16 notes that Virginia is already experiencing the effects of climate change in its coastal regions due to rising sea levels. “The threat from frequent storm surges and flooding could cost the Commonwealth close to $100 billion dollars for residential property alone. The impacts extend far beyond our coast, as half of Virginia’s counties face increased risk of water shortages by 2050 resulting from climate-related weather shifts,” it says.

Virginia’s power sector has seen a steady ramp up of natural gas power generation in recent years. Gas power’s share of the state’s power mix rose from 39% in 2015 to 44% in January 2017, surpassing generation from the state’s two nuclear plants for the first time. EIA-Va.GenerationData-May2017

According to the governor’s office, solar jobs in the state are up 65% since 2014, and solar installations have also seen a significant jump of 1,200% in just the last year. 

The state’s potential carbon rule flies in the face of the federal agenda. President Donald Trump on March 28 signed the “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” executive order, rescinding a substantial number of key provisions outlined by the previous administration’s climate agenda and directing a review of some rules that may place costly burdens on coal generators, coal miners, and oil and gas producers. The EPA has begun a reevaluation of the Clean Power Plan and the New Source Performance Standards.

But environmental groups aren’t giving up on a fight to save Obama-era rules. On May 16, the Environmental Defense Fund and 14 other public health and environmental organizations filed a brief urging the D.C. Circuit to issue a decision on the merits in the litigation over the Clean Power Plan. The federal appeals court temporarily suspended the litigation and directed parties to submit briefs addressing whether the consolidated cases should be remanded to the EPA rather than held in abeyance. 

However, progression of Virginia’s potential climate rule will depend on the state’s voters, who are poised to elect a new governor on November 7. 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)

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